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May 25, 2017

Leather, Lace and Levis: San Francisco’s Wildest Costume Events

Just who do you think you are? Thanks to San Francisco’s long history of cherishing outrageous self-expression, you can dress up as just about anyone you like. There’s no surer sign of a typical day in the City by the Bay than people-watching in a sidewalk cafe and seeing someone stroll down the street in a strange, gorgeous and/or sexy outfit.

That’s thanks, in part, to the Summer of Love, when style in the city began to diverge radically from the conformity of the era. Back in the ’60s, San Francisco earned a reputation for welcoming people from all walks of life and from all over the world. The city was already a melting pot, but the free love and free spirits liberated the city’s denizens to experiment with cutting edge couture. Of course, it’s no fun to dress up alone. So the city dwellers created parties to show off their original creations.

That legacy can still be felt today in these creative costume parties regularly thrown by locals:

  1. Folsom Street Fair
    Leather and bondage and all manner of straps and harnesses make Folsom Street Fair one of the most colorful festivals in the world. Of course, you’re free to show up in ordinary, conformist, boring street clothes and live vicariously through other attendees. Just don’t bring the kids.
  2. San Francisco Pride
    You’ll find every color of the rainbow at San Francisco Pride. What began as a handful of angry marchers in 1970, three years after the Summer of Love, blossomed into a million-plus person extravaganza by the turn of the century. Today, it is simply weird. And wild. These are the best areas to stay for San Francisco PRIDE.
  3. How Weird Street Faire
    Speaking of weird… An annual celebration of the strangest excesses the city can muster, the How Weird Street Faire is now in its second decade of outrageous outfits and electronic music. It’s also a fundraiser for an organization pushing world peace, so how can you go wrong with that? The more outrageous your costume, the better; so deck yourself out in something that’ll turn as many heads as possible.
  4. Hunky Jesus Contest
    Every year for Easter, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence host a Hunky Jesus contest to find the sexiest redeemer in San Francisco. If the Lamb of God ever does come back, who’s to say this won’t be his first stop?
  5. Up Your Alley
    Another of the city’s great fetish events (and the intense little sister of Folsom Street Fair), Up Your Alley is where locals go to really party in a tiny alley in the SoMa, home to a plethora of leather bars and eager guys.
  6. Carnaval
    Embrace the whole world from the confines of the Mission District, with a weekend-long celebration of samba, salsa and more. Parade performers are decked out in elaborate outfits celebrating international culture. Make sure your plumage turns more than a few heads. These are the best areas to stay for San Francisco Carnaval.
  7. Outside Lands
    You might want to layer a bit for this one. Outside Lands is a music festival held at the end of August in Golden Gate Park, and the weather can be a bit blustery. (It can also be summery and warm, so welcome to the mystery that is San Francisco weather.) Compared to the super-sexy parades and parties that SF’s known for, Outside Lands is laid back and chill, so you can wear the concert’s comfy uniform: a band t-shirt, some jeans, maybe a knit cap–with a red bandana thrown in somewhere for a grace note. Or you can dress to impress with your best hipster couture.
  8. Drag Gatherings with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence
    Every first Friday, the Sisters gather in their finest drag for a darshan — that is, an opportunity to envision the divine. And what vision could be more divine than a troupe of nuns dressed to the nines in colors and plumage? You can show up in plain street clothes, but why miss the opportunity to put together a fabulous outfit? Each event is different, and can range from games to sing-alongs to hopscotch to meditation.
  9. Bay to Breakers
    A longstanding tradition in the city, Bay to Breakers started as a competition. With the introduction of wacky costumes and groups over time, it gradually morphed into a daylong street fair with more revelry than actual running (although it’s still a serious race for some). Today it’s dominated by college students greeting the spring, often in little to no clothing. These are the best areas to stay for Bay to Breakers.

Dress like 1967 never went away.

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